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Designated Survivor - Backfire - Review

Designated Survivor “Backfire” was written by the team of Sang Kyu Kim and Pierluigi Cothran and was directed by Tara Nicole Weyr, whose other credits include Lucifer, Chicago Med, The Night Shift, and Devious Maids. Cothran’s previous credits include Blood & Oil and Dallas, so clearly has some experience with intrigue! This episode deals with the fallout from McLeish’s death. It’s nice to see the threads of the story coming together and more mysteries and conflicts popping up to take their place. Series based around incidents like this often struggle to maintain that sense of urgency. So far Designated Survivor is doing a creditable job.

The episode opens with everyone being notified of the McLeishes’ deaths. It’s 4:45am and Emily (Italia Ricci), Aaron (Adan Canto), and Seth (Kal Penn) are asleep – but none of them are in bed – though Aaron is lying on his – and all three are fully dressed.

Tom (Kiefer Sutherland) is furious at the outcome of events. Hannah (Maggie Q) points out that Beth was the joker in the deck – no one had any idea that she was involved. Forstell (Reed Diamond) insists that they have to keep all the details private in order to proceed with the investigation. Tom, as always, worries about what to tell the American public. I love that he’s trying so hard for honesty and transparency – and of course, it’s beautiful commentary on the state of things in reality.

Tom doesn’t even tell Emily, Aaron, or Seth the truth – just what they tell the public. It was a domestic dispute that ended in a murder/suicide.

Alex (Natascha McElhone) is completely freaked out by the entire thing. She worries about the McLeishes’ children. I had to say that I wondered about that too. How does a mother leave her kids orphaned like that? In the end, the turmoil sends Alex fleeing to Camp David when Mike (LaMonica Garrett) assures her it’s more secure there.

Tom is reluctant to let them go, saying that their family is the only thing holding him together, but in the end, agrees it’s best for the kids. I did love the scene in which he “covertly” follows Penny (Mckenna Grace) to school and realizes that he’s robbing her of her childhood. Her protective detail won’t even let the other kids get near her. There’s also a couple of nice scenes in which Penny wants Tom to help her draw a horse – which he never has time to do, of course. This is a nice nod to Sutherland’s other pastime – cowboy. Yes. Actual cowboy. Look it up…

The shots at the end when Tom says goodbye to his family are really beautifully shot. There’s a nice long shot of him walking back to the White House alone and the shadows nicely mimic the opening credits.

I’m really loving the interplay with the press in this show as it provides such a contrast to the utter buffoonery going on at the actual White House. Tom addresses the Press and tells them it was a murder/suicide. There’s a beautiful shot of Tom outside the pressroom, taking a deep breath and gathering himself – lying does not come easily or naturally to him. He straightens his shoulders and gets back to the work at hand.

Seth has to deal with reporter Abe Leonard (Rob Morrow) – a formerly well-respected, hard-hitting journalist who fell from grace but is now back trying to rebuild his reputation. He’s got intel on the Lanzano shooting and knows McLeish ordered him shot. Seth wants to shut him down, but both Aaron and Tom come to the defense of freedom of the press. It’s their job and an important part of American democracy that they are free to question and criticize the administration. Tom is more concerned with who is leaking the classified information.

Aaron realizes it is Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) and confronts her. She points out that he’s the one who breached national security by talking to her.

Aaron goes to Tom and does the right thing by taking responsibility for the leak. Tom asks him when he last slept. Really, he uses it as an excuse to give them some breathing room to investigate Aaron. He tells Aaron to take a week off, also turning Aaron’s own comment that he had a lapse in judgment against him. Tom assures him that he’s not trying to punish him, he’s trying to protect him – and really, he is. He still doesn’t believe Aaron is involved and wants to clear him.

Tom appoints Emily acting Chief of Staff. He tells her it’s temporary – he’s just giving Aaron some time. Aaron briefs Emily on the business at hand and Emily says she’s sorry. Aaron tell her no need. The President is just looking out for him.

Seth is pressed from all sides. The staff want to know what really happened. Seth tells them that they need to make sure to remind people that Abe isn’t a good reporter – and they’re happy to finally get to “spin” something! Seth’s friends waylay him and want to take him for a drink. They tell him he’s the face of a drowning administration, and Seth stands by Tom, saying he serves the President.

Hannah finally gets some movement in the case by interrogating Joyner (Daren A Herbert). The discover that Catalan was supposed to deliver money to a Warlord and the whole thing went FUBAR. McLeish’s men were in a kill or be killed situation and it was McLeish who stopped the others from killing Catalan. This is how they weaponized McLeish – they turned him into a traitor.

Emily meets with Dwyer (Peter Millard) who is supposed to come on as Secretary of State, but he is pulling his name out. He only came in out of respect, and to tell them that President Moss wants to come onboard as an advisor. Tom agrees to invite him to the White House in an attempt to bolster the Nation’s spirits.

Hannah goes to Luke’s funeral and later drops by Atwood’s (Malik Yoba) house. He’s curled up on his couch, alone in the house. He tells her that Yvette (Raven Dauda) has gone to her relatives. Atwood reminds Hannah that they took his gun and badge – and they should have because he threw all his training out the window. Hannah begs him to help her make them pay. He’s suspicious that she’s “working” him, but she insists that she just wants justice for Luke. He tells her to get out.

Morrow is a nice addition to the cast as Abe. He accosts Seth in a bar and wants to know why two outlets are suddenly carrying reports on him. Is it a smear campaign? Abe tells him that discrediting a source is “bush league” – ah…. Ripped from the headlines again… Seth is clearly impressed by Abe.

Abe also accosts Hookstraten in the bar. She tells him not to underestimate Tom – he’s smart and he’s learning as he goes. Abe isn’t happy about the smear campaign, however. He’s determined to find something, and Hookstraten looks disturbed at the end of their meeting. Maybe this is a can of worms she shouldn’t have opened?

Tom is not comfortable keeping McLeish’s actions with the shooter a secret from the public. Tom holds his address to the nation – against Seth’s advice. He tells the public “without truth, there can be no trust.” He answers Abe’s question and tells them what happened with the shooter, but he does it in such a ways as to not smear anyone. McLeish was a soldier making a split second decision, nothing more. Tom emphasizes that they need truth – not rumor – because a house divided against itself cannot stand.

The episode ends with Aaron being accosted by Langdon (Peter Outerbridge)! Another great cliffhanger. Given Aaron’s surprise, and his being more sad than annoyed or angry at the President giving him time off, pretty much solidifies that he’s not one of the bad guys. And I don’t think this show is going to be playing a long con of the viewers…

What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!